European Union Tasks

European Union Tasks

Tasks of the European Union

Content about European Union Tasks from the publication “The ABC of European Union law” (2010, European Union) by Klaus-Dieter Borchardt.

The list of tasks entrusted to the EU strongly resembles the constitutional order of a state. These are not the narrowly circumscribed technical tasks commonly assumed by international organisations, but fields of competence which, taken as a whole, form essential attributes of statehood.

Context of European Union Tasks in the European Union

The list of tasks entrusted to the EU is very wide-ranging, covering economic, social and political action.

More about European Union Tasks in the European Union

The economic tasks are centred around establishing a common market that unites the national markets of the Member States and on which all goods and services can be offered and sold on the same conditions as on an internal market and to which all Union citizens have the same, free access.

Other Aspects

The plan to create a common market has essentially been fulfilled through the programme aimed at completion of the internal market by 1992, which was initiated by the then President of the Commission, Jacques Delors, and approved by the Heads of State or Government, with the Union institutions succeeding in laying down a legal framework for a properly functioning single market. This framework has now been fleshed out very largely by national transposition measures, with the result that the single market has already become a reality. This single market also makes itself felt in everyday life, especially when travelling within the EU, where identity checks at national borders have long since been discontinued.


The internal market is backed up by the economic and monetary union.

The EU’s task in economic policy is not, however, to lay down and operate a European economic policy, but to coordinate the national economic policies so that the policy decisions of one or more Member States do not have negative repercussions for the operation of the single market. To this end, a Stability and Growth Pact was adopted to give Member States the detailed criteria which their decisions on budgetary policy have to meet. If they fail to do this, the European Commission can issue warnings and, in cases of continuing excessive budgetary deficit, the Council can also impose penalties.

The EU’s task in monetary policy was and is to introduce a single currency in the EU and to control monetary issues centrally. Some success has already been achieved in this area. On 1 January 1999, the euro was introduced as the single European currency in the Member States which had already met the convergence criteria established for that purpose. These were Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Spain, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Austria, Portugal and Finland. On 1 January 2002 the national currencies of these States were replaced with euro bank notes and coins. Since then, their day-to-day payments and financial transactions have been made in only one currency – the euro. Greece and Sweden had, initially, failed to meet the convergence criteria. Greece was included on 1 January 2001. Sweden, which could not meet the criteria principally due to the fact that it did not participate in the exchange rate mechanism of the European Monetary System (the ‘waiting room’ for the euro), is subject to a derogation in that the Commission and the European Central Bank must present convergence reports for Sweden at least every two years, in which they can recommend Sweden’s participation to the Council. If such a recommendation is made and approved by the Council, Sweden will not be able to refuse to participate. However, there is currently little support amongst the Swedish population for joining the euro area. In a 2003 referendum, 55.9 % were against the introduction of the euro. In a survey in December 2005, 49 % were still against the euro, while 36 % were in favour. The situation is different with regard to Denmark and the United Kingdom. These Member States secured an opt-out, which allows them to decide if and when the procedure for verifying compliance with the criteria for joining the single currency is initiated. The new Member States are also obliged to adopt the euro as their national currency as soon as they meet the convergence criteria. None of the new Member States has an opt-out clause, and most of the new Member States wish to introduce the euro as soon as possible. Slovenia (1 January 2007), Cyprus (1 January 2008), Malta (1 January 2008) and Slovakia (1 January 2009) have already achieved this, extending the ‘euro area’ – countries which have the euro as their currency – to a current total of 16 Member States.

In addition to the area of economic and monetary policy, there are many other economic policy areas in which the EU has responsibilities. These include in particular agricultural and fisheries policy, transport policy, consumer policy, structural and cohesion policy, research and development policy, space policy, environment policy, health policy, trade policy and energy policy.

In social policy the EU has the task of ensuring that the benefits of economic integration are not only felt by those active in the economy, but also shape the social dimension of the single market. One of the starting points for this has been the introduction of a social security system for migrant workers. Under this system, workers who have worked in more than one Member State, and therefore fallen under different social insurance schemes, will not suffer a disadvantage with regard to their social security (old-age pension, invalidity pension, health care, family benefits, unemployment benefits). A further priority task of social policy, in view of the unemployment situation in the EU, which has been a source of concern for a number of years, has been the need to devise a European employment strategy. This calls on the Member States and the EU to develop a strategy for employment and particularly to promote a skilled, trained and adaptable workforce, in addition to which labour markets should also be made adaptable to economic change. Employment promotion is re garded as a matter of common concern, and requires Member States to coordinate their national measures within the Council. The EU will contribute to a high level of employment by encouraging cooperation between Member States and, if necessary, complementing their action while respecting their competences.

With regard to the actual area of politics, the EU has tasks in the areas of Union citizenship, policy on judicial cooperation in criminal matters and common foreign and security policy. Union citizenship has further strengthened the rights and interests of nationals of the Member States within the EU. Citizens enjoy the right to move freely within the Union (Article 21 TFEU), the right to vote and stand as a candidate in local elections (Article 22 TFEU), entitlement to protection by the diplomatic and consular authorities of any Member State (Article 23 TFEU), the right to petition the European Parliament (Article 24 TFEU) and, in the context of the general ban on discrimination, the right to be treated by all Member States in the same way as they treat their own nationals (Article 20(2) in conjunction with Article 18 TFEU). With respect to common foreign and security policy, the EU has, in particular, the tasks of:

_safeguarding the commonly held values, fundamental interests and independence of the EU;

_ strengthening the security of the EU and its Member States;

_ securing world peace and increasing international security;

_ promoting international cooperation;

_ promoting democracy and the rule of law, and safeguarding human rights and basic freedoms;

_ establishing a common defence.

Since the EU is not an individual state, these tasks can only be carried out step by step. Traditionally, foreign and especially security policy are areas in which the Member States are particularly keen to retain their own (national) sovereignty. Another reason why common interests in this area are difficult to define is that only France and the United Kingdom have nuclear weapons. Another problem is that some Member States are not in NATO or the WEU. Most ‘common foreign and security policy’ decisions are therefore still currently taken on the basis of cooperation between states. In the meantime, however, a range of tools has emerged in its own right, thus giving cooperation between states a firm legal framework.

In the area of judicial cooperation in criminal matters, the main role of the EU is to carry out tasks that are in the interests of Europe as a whole. These include, in particular, combating organised crime, preventing trafficking in human beings and prosecuting criminal offences. Since organised crime can no longer be effectively countered at national level, a joint response at EU level is needed. Two very positive steps have already been taken with the directive on money-laundering and the creation of a European police authority, Europol, which has been operational since 1998 (Article 88 TFEU). This cooperation is also concerned with facilitating and accelerating cooperation in relation to proceedings and the enforcement of decisions, facilitating extradition between Member States, establishing minimum rules relating to the constituent elements of criminal acts and to penalties in the fields of organised crime, terrorism, trafficking in human beings and the sexual exploitation of women and children, illicit drug trafficking and illicit arms trafficking, money-laundering and corruption (Article 83 TFEU). One of the most significant advances in EU judicial cooperation was the creation of Eurojust in April 2003 (Article 85 TFEU). Based in The Hague, Eurojust is a team of magistrates and prosecutors from all EU countries. Its job is to help coordinate the investigation and prosecution of serious cross-border crimes. From Eurojust the Council may establish a European Public Prosecutor’s Office in order to combat crimes affecting the financial interests of the Union (Article 86 TFEU). Further progress has been made with the European arrest warrant, which has been valid throughout the EU since January 2004. The warrant can be issued for anyone accused of an offence for which the minimum penalty is more than one year in prison. The European arrest warrant is designed to replace lengthy extradition procedures.

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